Jax Beach police report 15 pickpocketing incidents over holiday weekend

2-man team worked together to steal from victims, police say

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – There's a neighborhood crime alert in Jacksonville Beach, where 15 reports of pickpocketing came in over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, according to police.

One detective described it as an "epidemic." Authorities said there is a growing number of thieves who are pickpocketing and taking advantage of people who leave cellphones unattended at bars and restaurants. 

The stack of complaints made to the Jacksonville Beach Police Department tell a story: Many people may not be aware of organized pickpocketing and thievery when they go to food and entertainment venues on or near the boardwalk. 

It's becoming such a growing problem that patrons are now being warned to be aware of their surroundings and their property when they're out at busy bars and restaurants. 

"At Surfer The Bar a couple weeks ago, the bouncer told us to put our phones in our front pockets. So when we go out, we put our phones in our front pocket or lock them in our purse. You definitely don't want your phone taken, and my phone is my life," Emma Roberson, a Jacksonville resident, told News4Jax. 

Detectives said a two-man team worked together over the holiday weekend to steal people's cellphones and wallets. The crimes mostly happened at beach bars, including Surfer The Bar, Lynch's, The Ritz and The Pier Cantina.

According to investigators, one man would distract the victim while the other would steal from them.

Police have not released a description of the two men.

In most cases, the victims' phones were stolen. According to the incident reports, the majority of the phones that were stolen were iPhone 7s.

Most of the victims were tourists from out-of-town, particularly women.

New4Jax met a tourist from Cincinnati who was unaware of the growing number of pickpocketing incidents.

"That is crazy. That is so scary. I would hope that doesn't happened to me," said Katie Wingert, who's from Cincinnati, Ohio, and was on vacation in Jacksonville Beach.

News4Jax spotted a purse that had been left unattended and waited for the owner of the bag to come back to the table, then told her about the rash of thefts. 

"I just went to the bar for like two seconds. I had no idea. I wasn't even thinking, because there's nobody here," said Rachel Lavance, a Jacksonville resident. "That's really scary."

Renee Deere and Randy Tatford, who were on vacation, told News4Jax that they were from the French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana -- an area notorious for reported pickpocketing during Mardi Gras. 

"They work in groups. You don't know what happened to you. Somebody bumps into you, then, all of a sudden, your money is gone, or your phone is gone," the two said. 

Police also reminded people to secure their valuables and be aware of their surroundings.

Dozens of arrests made at beaches over holiday weekend

A total of 41 arrests were made by the three beach law enforcement agencies during the five-day period stretching from Friday to Monday.

The arrests were on charges that included DUI, disorderly conduct, possession of marijuana, possession of cocaine, battery, aggravated battery, resisting police, lewd exhibition and possession of a firearm by convicted felon.

Jacksonville Beach police made 27 arrests, Neptune Beach police made nine and there were five arrests in Atlantic Beach. 

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